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Mal Waldron/Steve Lacy: Live at Dreher Paris 1981

This new edition of these enduring club recordings by pianist Mal Waldron and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy makes little improvement upon the last incarnation, issued only seven years ago with the same 24-bit master. The main benefit of these four CDs being reissued in twin two-CD folders, wrapped in the type of outer sleeve used by ECM and Nonesuch, is that it simplifies filing; previously, both Lacy and Waldron got top billing on one of the two separately issued volumes. The down side is also minor; the last edition’s wonderful tray photo of Lacy, leaning over the top of the upright piano in between-tunes consultation with Waldron, is replaced by blurbs for two Monk-related Lacy Hatology titles, an unusual promotional gesture by the austere Swiss label.

Still, for anyone with a serious interest in either artist, Live at Dreher Paris 1981 is an essential collection. By this time in their respective developments, both artists had stripped their approaches down to the bare essentials. Though this was their first gig as a duo, they had worked periodically on each other’s projects for well over 20 years, giving them more than adequate familiarity with each other’s tendencies as composers and improvisers. As a result, every note on these four CDs is on point, brimming with rhythmic vigor and hip insight. The grit of their exchanges is markedly enhanced by the marginal house piano, whose thunderless bass octaves and jangly above-the-staffs register give Waldron’s incessant block chords and motifs an unexpected sting.

Arguably, one should have a serious interest to delve into 23 lengthy tracks that contain three takes of “‘Round Midnight,” and two takes of three other Monk tunes, two Lacy originals (“No Baby” and “Herbe de L’Oublie”) and the Waldron staple “Snake Out.” There are a lot of dots to connect between the performances, and many of them are revealed only on repeated close listenings. Yet the commitment pays off each time Lacy gleans a phrase from Waldron, uncoils it and stretches in various directions; or when Waldron anticipates the arc of Lacy’s solo, takes something of a detour with his voicings or rhythmic shading, meeting the saxophonist at the crucial junction of a tune to lift the bandstand.

Though Waldron and Lacy went on to make rewarding, comparatively polished studio albums for Soul Note and RCA Novus, the Dreher recordings reveal the fine-tuning required of these unique stylists to merge as a duo. Subsequently, Live at Dreher Paris 1981 makes a compelling case that jazz is process, not product.

Originally Published